Lessons from Chiapas: #1- Don’t Ask “How?”

One of the first things my coach, Nigel Henry, told me when I was writing my book was: “Don’t ask ‘how?'”  I understood in theory what he was teaching me, but it was hard to practice.  My ego was stubborn, wanting to be able to control situations and outcomes.  My trip to Chiapas, showed me that “how” and “why” are superfluous when it comes to fulfilling dreams.

I arrived in San Cristobal prepared to share two poems for an informal poetry reading.  It was something I would do to pass the time, share who I am and enjoy being able to tell folks at home that I read my work internationally.  They wouldn’t have to know that it was an informal gathering that happened to be in a different country.  It just sounds nice to say “I read my work in Mexico.”  Reading my poetry was actually incidental, because I really came to Chiapas to support my dad’s presentation at the international indigenous people’s conference– as I’ve stated in my earlier post.

As I also mentioned in the previous post, the informal reading turned into a huge, heavily promoted new years party with professional performers and musicians and the presentation I came to support my father with by sitting in the audience, turned into an opportunity to be a part of the panel, supporting him by introducing him and sharing my work as an artist.

Don’t ask how, just answer the call

Because Dr. Raymundo suggested with such assurance that I could present along side my father, I understood his invitation as an opportunity to grow.  I had three days to write on a theme that was vaguely familiar to me.  I intended my words to be a short introduction to my father’s multi-media presentation.  After I spoke my words the morning of December 31st, the audience response was overwhelming.  Whistles and cheers filled the room in recognition that I had spoken words to their hearts.

I can’t tell you how I came up with those words.  I could but it wouldn’t really explain anything.  I can’t even tell you why the words I spoke were so meaningful to so many people.  I am still waiting for someone to tell me why it touched them the way it did.  All I can tell you is that I heard a call, Dr. Raymundo speaking to me as if it was already going to happen.  And I answered it.  I agreed to do what Dr. Raymundo suggested.  I could have understandably refused to participate in that way because I was “unprepared” and had not been given enough time.   Instead, I decided that the very fact that I was being called meant I was prepared, whether I understood how or not.

If I refused the request, no one would have looked at me in any less way.  Caleb, my father and Dr. Raymundo would have understood my reticence to produce something so quickly.  However, by answering the call, taking courage in hand and doing the unexpected of myself, I strengthened my character, increased my spiritual fortitude and strengthened the foundation on which I choose to stand in this world.  Now, I have unshakable faith in my abilities as a writer and speaker.

The process

I wrote free thoughts for three days.  I brainstormed and played with ideas in my journal.  I know some things about the Zapatista movement.  I know some things about the Black Panther Party.  I don’t know as much as I’d like about either.  I was coming to the conference and Chiapas to learn more.  What could I say of value when I know so little?  These questions and other doubts ran their course through my mind as did the reminders of my intentions. My intentions were to create an experience of solidarity.  There was one thing I knew for sure. Based on my informal research of African diaspora history throughout the years, I knew we had a common ancestry.  Sure, the world has a common ancestry beginning in the place called Africa, but I knew with a little more specific detail about the Mayan- African relationship and oneness.  I had alluded to it in my poem “You Bring Out the Oakland in Me.”   I could mention a little bit of what I know I little about and a lot of what I know a lot about.  So that was the way I allowed my speech to take form.

The response

Every day until the end of my trip, people asked how they could get a copy of the “poem.”  (It’s in the previous post and on my home page).  Strangers hugged me and thanked me.  People asked to take pictures with me.

I think their response has more to do with the nature of who they are than with my actual words.  I think the people who are drawn to this conference and to San Cristobal are already artistically and spiritually impressionable.  I mean they are sensitive to subtle levels of beauty and kindness.  I also got the feeling that some were waiting for the recognition of African ancestry that my words reflected.  I will never know really, until someone tells me.  When strangers pulled me into their arms for hugs, thanked me for my words and asked for copies of the poem, I didn’t dare ruin the moment with a how or why question.  I savored the love and affection.  I revelled in the opportunity to experience authentic connections.

The party

Again, I won’t ask how.  Not even how a simple poetry session turned into a big new years party.  Nor, how I performed the way that I did that night.  Kylie said I was “policking” – when you become the art.  I felt like I was “Bob Marleying”.  He’s my reference for becoming one with art, life, music.

I went from the mindset of seeing myself as  an inexperienced (by the standard of the other musicians present) performer, with only two poems to perform, to not seeing myself at all.  I was just being.

I wasn’t really nervous per se at any point.  I knew that I would give 100% and that it would be appreciated.  I was concerned that two poems was not enough to give, and that my lack of material for the night would make me look like an amateur in comparison.  Of course, I had to put it in perspective that I had not been performing as long as the others, nor did I have the team that the other performers had to support and participate with them.  I came with a newly written book that I had not written with intentions to perform.  They came with other performers, musicians, CDs, time and experience.   On top of all that, my voice felt like it was getting weak once the performances started.  I was losing my voice!

But it was in the stars.  Lalo, Alvan, Cristian and I created a sound of beauty so strong that even I could not resist it’s power.  That is why I say I went from nervousness to being.  When we performed, I felt myself pulled into the sound of their instruments.  My pauses became opportunities to be serenaded.  I enjoyed the call of their instruments, like hearing my own name. I had to remind myself to keep going because my spirit wanted to take off and dance through the sound of their strings, forget about reciting poetry.  It’s hard to believe that  I had rehearsed only twice with Lalo and Alvan and never with Cristian.  Two rehearsals for one hour each.

I let myself go.  Kylie and Mia said, “Just have fun.” right before I got up to the stage.  So I did.  I released my  concerns.  I accepted that I was answering a call to be a better performer, to show up.  It was too late to doubt then.  And because I perceived myself as having less than the others in a lot of ways,  I said I decided I would make up for it with fun, high vibration and pure energy.

Everyone tells me it was amazing.  I tease and say, “I don’t know.  I wasn’t there.”  I wasn’t.  Not the egotistical “I” who wants to know how and why.  She wasn’t there.  Only my being was present.  Such a beautiful experience of oneness.

Now, I believe in myself and my Self more intensely than I ever did before.

I don’t like to advise, but I have a request.  If you have been allowing concern to stop you from anything, please answer your calls and show up.  If you are being called, you are ready.  And like someone told me:  The world is waiting for you!

With much love, warmth and solidarity on these artistic life travels,


This will automatically post on the Twirl page of my website at http://www.meressia.com


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